Economic modernity in the XXIst century: Markets, Solidarity, Democracy

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 to Friday, October 5, 2012
CECUPS - Tramod
Research line: 
Comparative sociology of modernity

Conference within the framework of the research project ‘Trajectories of modernity’, funded by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) as Advanced Grant no. 249438.
The economic modernity of contemporary societies is often assessed by judging the degree to which economic action and exchange can be pursued according to the intentions and capacities of the individual actors rather than being governed by strong collective rules. Thus, economic freedom is placed at the core of modernity, and the belief in market self-regulation under conditions of economic freedom has retained a guiding role in contemporary economic practices. This belief emerged in late-eighteenth century Europe, and to many historians and sociologists the introduction of commercial freedom, together with the Industrial Revolution, is at the heart of the “great divergence” (the term, but not this view, is Kenneth Pomeranz') between Europe and other world regions. It has persisted through many historical and conceptual transformations and can be found both in the idea of a functionally differentiated economic sphere in modern society in sociological theories from the 1950s onwards and in more recent calls for de-regulation advanced by the economic sciences.
However, the notion of self-regulation is theoretically not sustainable in its strong forms. All economic action requires co-ordination, and even market interaction presupposes conventions for action to be successful. The limits of market-self-regulation have conceptually been addressed in two main forms: on the one hand, modern societies were not only seen as market societies, they were also expected to be democratic societies. In other words, economic modernity was accompanied by political modernity, as the commitment to individual and collective self-determination. Thus, the autonomy of the economic actor could find its limits in the expression of the collective will in the democratic polity. On the other hand, economic action was often seen as the expression of individual instrumental rationality. As such, it was one form of action and of relation to other human beings that could (conceptually) and should (normatively) be accompanied and complemented by other such forms of action and social bond. From the early nineteenth century onwards, the term solidarity emerged as a key concept for strong social bonds between human beings in market (or: capitalist) society, capable of expressing recognition of the other in terms of social justice beyond supposed individual merit.
Thus, this conference aims at gathering conceptual and empirical research regarding three main dimensions: the nature, scope and limits of markets in the making of societies ruled by decentralised economic exchanges; the appearance of a variety of forms of democracy as collective means of decision-making with regard to economic matters; and the space for a variety of forms of social solidarity as an attempt to moralise or civilise the running of such contemporary market-based societies.
Markets: limits of self-regulation and forms of embeddedness

Democracy: the political foundations of economic modernity

Solidarity: reconstructing social bonds and enlarging social justice

These are the key questions this conference will address, searching for the answers that may be required in our time, a time that is marked by the following historico-conceptual constellation: Europeans had pioneered the idea of market self-regulation as a pathway towards material affluence and lasting peace; however, this idea has been strongly contested in Europe at times, and furthermore, it has long not been found similarly convincing in other world-regions; in the current global constellation we have recently witnessed a return to the radical idea of market self-regulation after decades of embedded capitalism, but we are also witnessing a profound crisis with this most recent experience of a globally de-regulated economy.